Iron Horse hosts Cordelia’s Dad’s Tim Eriksen

By Garth Brody

Tim Eriksen will take the stage the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton tonight, although he is no stranger to the venerable venue; Eriksen is a founding member of local legend Cordelia’s Dad. He has been performing in the Pioneer Valley, both solo and with his band, since they formed in 1987.

At that time, the hardcore punk scene in Amherst was starting to wind down; the momentum was gone, and new bands had to try something fresh to succeed. That something fresh, for Tim Eriksen and Cordelia’s Dad, turned out to be the influence of traditional American folk music in the unlikely context of hardcore punk. Eriksen described this evolution when reflecting on his music earlier this week.

“The things I’m interested in now I got interested in at the same time when it was the early days of when hardcore was kind of getting going,” said Eriksen. “I was also interested in acoustic music since I was even younger than that. Partly because it was portable, and I spent a lot of time out in the woods and on the beach, and that’s not really ideal settings for playing hardcore punk.”

He added that “we also thought we were all going to be living in caves in four years,” which helped motivate an affinity for the apocalypse-friendly genre.

When Cordelia’s Dad hit the scene in 1987, the initial response to their unlikely blending of genres was, according to Eriksen, “extremely positive.”

“It was one of the few times in my life when we didn’t have to do anything; everybody loved it,” said Eriksen. “It’s just kind of convenient when that happens…since the very first show that we did, had this ultra-acoustic side and then this ultra-electric side. And the same audiences really liked both, so playing in kind of underground, indie-rock/punk clubs and starting with acoustic music – sometimes not even amplified, just coming out in the middle of the room – people always liked the combination.”

Even with obstructive skepticism from radio stations and record labels, having  been on eight different labels so far, Cordelia’s Dad went on to release seven albums from 1990-2002. Their past releases include the critically acclaimed 1992 album, “How Can I Sleep?,” which critic Stewart Mason describes as “possibly the finest American folk-rock album of the ‘90s.”

The acoustic-electric folk/punk sound developed for these recordings by Eriksen and Cordelia’s Dad mirrors that of the fellow Amherst-based rockers Dinosaur Jr., whose “ear-bleeding country” sound arose from the same hardcore scene. Eriksen acknowledged this connection, but said it was more of a parallel development than a collaborative effort.

“I wasn’t really friends with those guys. I would run into them periodically … but it was definitely the ethos of the time. I mean you listen to those early records by those bands and Cordelia’s Dad, and clearly the same kind of things were going on, where it was after hardcore and looking to more melodic forms – taking it back, in some ways. But then also preserving some of the fun and the abandon of the punk stuff. I think a lot of people were doing that at that time, in those pre-Nirvana days. And that all kind of came to a head with that grunge bonanza.”

Despite this natural progression, it seems easy to describe Eriksen’s musical sensibilities as “schizophrenic,” a popular critical label for Cordelia’s Dad.

“I also feel that everybody’s got a million things going on …especially now, with the iPods and stuff, everybody’s jumping back and forth between African music and death metal. That was less the case when Cordelia’s Dad was starting out, when people were more segmented based on music; hippies were hippies, and they didn’t talk to punks. Now, to me, it seems that it’s a lot less like that.”

This has, according to Eriksen, led to an increased appreciation of traditional acoustic folk music. He said that “now, it’s fairly common to see kids carrying banjos and fiddles around college campuses, which, in the 80s and 90s, just didn’t happen at all. There was no interest – zero interest – in my generation in traditional music, folk music.”

Eriksen, of course, had been interested in folk music from a young age. When asked what the appeal of the genre was, he responded saying that “it’s music that’s straightforward and hits hard even if it’s quiet. It has a strength to it that’s not trying to kiss ass all the time – music that’s not trying to suck up to the listener all the time, but is presenting itself honestly.”

This kind of strong, straightforward music is exactly what you should expect at tonight’s concert.

“It’ll be solo acoustic – so banjo, fiddle, guitar, some unaccompanied singing. I might have a few friends join me. Some peppy stuff. Some more pensive stuff. I’ll be playing a number of my own songs that I’ve been working on lately for bajo sexto. Mixed bag, but all acoustic.”

The bald-headed balladeer goes on at 7 p.m. at the Iron Horse Music Hall. Tickets are $15 online and $18 at the door.

Garth Brody can be reached at [email protected]